Funnel vision, by UM’s Abdul Basith

There is a right way to increase sales, and it involves finding the correct mix of performance branding, writes UM’s associate digital director Abdul Basith.

marketing funnel takes a potential customer through discovering and purchasing the product, and further nurturing them. Although a high number of multiple digital touchpoints have somewhat flipped the linear flow of the phases, it’s still important to link branding and acquisition to performance. This enables brands to plan and optimise media, whilst remaining accountable to business outcomes.

The probability of someone buying your product in the first instance is still relatively low. For them to buy products, they need to be convinced, and for this trust needs to be built. Let’s compare two scenarios. In the first, you find a leaflet outside your apartment with a 30 per cent discount on car servicing from a station you have never heard of. In the second, you see a lamp post near your apartment communicating there is a new car servicing station; after a couple of days, you come across an ad for the same station on the building notice board, mentioning the proximity and well-trained staff; and then the leaflet finds you.

It is very clear which approach will work on building a long-term relationship. The second approach will help the customers to know you well, and multiple touchpoints will help in building consistent value over time. This is what a marketing funnel does; it takes the customer from the first point of contact (lamp posts) and through different phases to build a relationship.

We have moved from a business-as-usual scenario when it comes to media planning – bulk TV buys in top channels and a large hoarding in Sheikh Zayed Road for a launch campaign – to identifying cost-effective ways to reach our target audience, due to the pandemic. The situation doesn’t look like going away overnight and the only way brands can survive is by adapting quickly during this time. The need to adapt has resulted in a paradigm shift towards performance marketing – a quick way to generate sales and immediate gratification. This is mainly due to hyper-focus on ROI and on achieving aggressive short-term goals

Growing share in lower-funnel investment, bolstered by strong machine learning on digital platforms, worked very well and these quick wins assisted in showing a better ROI in tough times. Targeted marketing, direct impact measurement and real-time optimisation are driving up conversion and purchases. However, what we are seeing is this has had an adverse effect on media share in the mid and upper funnel. While direct response campaigns are more effective in activating immediate results, they also tend to be more expensive. Therefore, incorporating upper-funnel strategies can help increase marketing efficiency when looking to boost sales in a longer term. Also, there have been studies showing brand messaging was more effective in driving short-term sales with one target audience and tactical messaging for another – for instance, a broad messaging can bring in a high response rate from older people compared with strong tactical offers for a 20-30 age group.

Interestingly, a lot of start-ups and direct-to-consumer brands are operating in an inverted funnel, starting at purchases and moving up. We have seen this on Instagram where the start-up e-tailers are directly going for promotional offers in their first connect with the users. This is understandable as start-ups usually have a short time to show the volume of users for investment purposes. The priority here is on basic metric-driven efforts and then layering branding efforts at a later stage. However, this is untenable long-term for established brands.

Brand marketing transcends the product and provides the connection. This connection will make it easier to drive a response from the user, which is the objective of a performance-marketing campaign. Brand building develops equity down the funnel and lasts beyond the campaign – it makes it easier for brands to sell. The shift to performance marketing has brought new challenges and expectations for branding. For example, brands are looking to analyse awareness like a direct response campaign, which is not ideal, influencing users with two or three sessions. However, certain proxy data points will provide direction in measuring if we are on the right path. Moreover, we need to ensure we are applying a similar data-driven approach to branding and to reaching the intended audience.

This approach also takes an undue burden off the lower funnel, which is expected to carry business performance in unfavourable conditions. Placing all their eggs in one acquisition basket will expose brands to greater risk should their lower funnel activations underperform in the future.

As consumer behaviour evolves, the line between brand and performance marketing is blurring. Advances in measurement and attribution also make it harder to define where branding ends and performance begins. For example, it’s challenging to say which touchpoints play a role in conversion. Now we track view-through attribution, in which the impressions are tracked, not just clicks. If a user fills a lead form two days after seeing the ad and clicks on a search ad, will that be a win for branding or performance? It’s hard to understand the exact reason, but it is increasingly easy to measure.

Thus, the massive improvements in data-tracking technologies have made it feasible to measure branding metrics – similar to rigorous performance campaigns. As a result of this, the advertising budget can be managed as a true investment, rather than as a sunk cost. Benefits include the ability to compare spend impact across media, analyse brand impact across a consumer’s entire decision journey, allocate in-campaign resources more effectively, and tailor content. This data-driven perspective on marketing performance allows both to develop more thoughtful and aligned strategies for marketing spend. Data points to gauge short term-branding performances should allude to a KPI framework. They include: platform brand lift studies; weekly research trackers; ad incrementality testing on channels; direct visits to websites; organic search volume; and social listening.

To drive business outcomes, brands must be there for people at all stages, creating relationships throughout the journey. Brand is an asset that constantly requires investment to evolve and grow. This should be continually quantified and measured so brand investment remains a priority. There should be a strong balance between converting users who are already on a lower funnel and developing new audiences. It is vital to look at the full picture rather than choose this-or-that terms. By applying a performance lens to all media and content, brands can build consideration and streamline conversion processes. If performance is the only focus, sales will go down as soon as the campaigns are turned off.